I wanted to love it. I used to love Kensington Place, in its early days and I love Rowley Leigh‘s writing in the FT, but I didn’t love this. I didn’t hate it either, though, I just wasn’t excited by it.
This is the restaurant at the top of the former Whiteleys department store and occupies a corner end of the top floor of the building. The setting is incongruous. To get the restaurant, you need to walk past various cheap and cheerful chain restaurants and the overall effect is very American mall. You would never guess that at the end of the corridor you would find this elegant and atmospheric room. Surrounded by what appear to be the original and very attractive leaded light windows, the decor is pure 1930s art deco – successfully done.
We fancied something quiet and simple and as this is a fairly large restaurant, took a chance without booking. We went around 7.30. It was practically empty. We were taken to a table squeezed between two others. I don’t like being sandwiched between other people, at least not in a restaurant, so I asked to move to the corner table. I was told it was booked.
To her immense credit, the maitre d’ came back after checking and said that the table was not booked until 9.30 so that we could move. Tick.
As soon as we were seated we will brought fresh radishes, which I liked, but they needed some sea salt.
The menu is large and varied. I would describe it as mostly French brasserie but with a few unusual dishes thrown in. There are some small appetisers at around £5 each, some hors d’oeuvres and a variety of main courses. It’s a big menu. There is a lunch special – £20 for two courses and £25 for three courses, with quite a lot of choice on it, which I think is good value for the food on offer.
I ordered Imam Bayildi -translates as “the Imam fainted”. I think he was meant to have fainted at the beauty of the dish. I didn’t. It’s an aubergine dish which I’ve eaten many times in various Turkish restaurants and cooked myself from the Claudia Roden book. This version suffered from having been left in the fridge for too long. It should be served at room temperature otherwise the flavour suffers and it doesn’t have the correct melting texture.
C had linguine with crab, chilli and mint. I know it’s not completely unusual as a combination but it didn’t quite work here. It just tasted slightly odd. It was also under-salted. It was a reasonably generous portion though, at £13.50.
I followed that with sardines – a bargain at£9, although they don’t come with any accompanying dishes. As I am trying to undo the effect of two weeks of carb overload, I ordered lettuce with dressing and creamed spinach. The lettuce was simply a small lettuce cut in half with a French dressing over it. I liked the simplicity of it and it worked. The creamed spinach was prepared in the oven and baked with Parmesan over it. I liked this more than anything else. The sardines came grilled simply with a sauce vierge. They were nicely done and had a charcoal/smoky flavour.
C almost chose the Black Forest gateaux, revisited, but bottled out and chose instead yet another dull desert, as is his wont: chocolate ice cream. Frankly, you could only tell it was chocolate ice cream from looking at it, because it tasted of very little, other than cream and sugar – not necessarily fatal, but not what you want when you are expecting a chocolate hit.
Coffee came with a little Valhrona square of chocolate which is never a bad thing in my book.
Really, this was formulaic cooking without inspiration. It wasn’t cheap enough to allow you to forgive the very slow service and the competent but dull food and in the age of Brasserie Zedel, there are places who are doing this sort of thing better and cheaper. Personally, I wouldn’t go out of my way to come here but I would eat here if I was going to the cinema opposite. I also ought to mention that the cinema opposite has a section where proper food is provided by the restaurant, during the film, which strikes me as rather wonderful . Worth checking out.